Efforts by an independent TV producer in Tokyo to hand down the traditions of the Ainu and their history have come to fruition via an illustrated storybook and a compact disc.
Tatsumine Katayama, 59, recently published the second version of “Upaskuma,” which is Ainu for “Traditional Wisdom Handed Down by Ancestors.”
The illustrated books contain five short stories each — in Japanese, English and Ainu. As Ainu does not have its own script, Katayama used the Roman alphabet.
Grammatical commentaries as well as background explanations of each story are also included.
Katayama, who published the first “Upaskuma” two years ago, also released a CD containing recitations of all 10 stories in Ainu by an Ainu woman, Mutsuko Nakamoto, 73, who lives in Chitose near Sapporo.
Nakamoto, a teacher of the Ainu language, contributed all of the 10 stories, which she learned as a child.
The first book describes such things as the way to use medicinal plants, and a traditional Ainu ceremony, called “Iomante,” in which they slaughter a bear cub to send its soul back to the world of the gods.
In the second book, Katayama also takes up social topics, such as discrimination against the Ainu.
In “Yaywennukar Oruspe” (“Stories of Hardship”), an Ainu girl, the young Nakamoto, tells how Japanese boys called her “Ainu” when she went to school for the first time, taking her hat to throw it in the snow and stamp on it.
“Having the hat my father gave me stamped on by Japanese boys was my first experience of discrimination. But I know plenty of other stories about people being discriminated against just because they were Ainu,” she said.
The story also tells how Ainu people were punished when they caught salmon in the rivers, although the fish was one of their principle sources of food.
“When the Japanese came, they forbade the Ainu to fish in the river. The Ainu needed salmon to live, but even if they caught a few fish, they were found and punished. That has not changed to this day, and I think it really is a terrible thing,” the girl said.
Katayama said, “With the introduction of new values from the West, the old Ainu way of life became outdated, and ‘Upaskuma’ rapidly went out of fashion.”
“Upaskuma” is on the verge of disappearing, but Katayama said he compiled the two books and the CD with a strong hope to revive its “indispensable wisdom.”
“The wisdom and the world view of the Ainu preserved in ‘Upaskuma’ holds immense value to us in this day and age, providing guidance about environmental protection and respect for different cultures,” he said.
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